In recent years, most of the big news and developments in Digidesign's Pro Tools system have centered around hardware. First there was the move into a 24-bit system, followed by the transition from the NuBus architecture to PCI-based audio cards. That, in turn, opened the doorway for the development of the cross-platform, PC/Power Mac-compatible Pro Tools|24 MIX system that was unveiled at AES San Francisco a year ago and was reviewed in the July 1999 issue of Mix.
This time, Digidesign has focused on software and hardware. Pro Tools V. 5.0 adds new features, while, on the hardware side, Digidesign enters the host-based DAW market with a bundled, reduced-feature version of Pro Tools V. 5.0 software called Pro Tools LE. LE runs with an all-new entry-level project system called the Digi 001 (as well as the venerable Audiomedia III card).
Under development for the past 18 months, Pro Tools V. 5.0 marks a major upgrade for Digidesign TDM systems, supplying powerful post/advanced editing features, an integrated MIDI sequencer and two plug-and-play Avid video-compatible hardware options (simply known as Digidesign AVoption and AVoption|XL). Finally, the host-based Pro Tools LE version of 5.0 adds CPU-based mixing and real-time AudioSuite plug-ins to Digidesign's entry-level hardware offerings.
TAKING POST AND GENERAL EDITING TO THE NEXT LEVEL
According to Digidesign's Paul Melnychuck, "Pro Tools V. 5.0 raises the bar for audio post-production, and delivers on the promise of synergy between the Avid and Digidesign product lines." This answers the oft-raised criticism that users have voiced about the lack of cohesion between the industry's leading audio and picture-editing workstations, despite Avid's acquisition of Digidesign in 1995.
However, there is no doubt that Pro Tools 5.0 brings a heap of synergy to Avid/Digi users. The AV options add Avid video import/capture/playback (all resolutions) to Pro Tools and provide the "missing link" when visuals are cut on an Avid Media/Film Composer, with audio post handled on Pro Tools.
Among its post-specific enhancements are single keystroke access to most editing functions, stationary playhead, dual selection "source/destination"-style editing, grabber selection of discontiguous elements, and Fit-to-Marks and Snap-to-Region start/end/sync point commands. Pro Tools' MachineControl option is improved, providing fast serial control of 9-pin decks. And there's a redesigned stand-alone OMF transfer tool application called DigiTranslator, which includes OMF import and export.
Many of the new advanced editing features will appeal to any user, music or post. These include Visual Markers, Scrub and TC/E Trim modes, Fill Paste (with automatic looping), Region Replace for individual or global sound replacement, Grid to Regions/Markers for "magnetically" aligning edited elements, and improved auto- and batch-fade functions.
ENTER THE DIGISEQUENCER
The most intriguing part of Pro Tools V. 5.0 is its integrated MIDI sequencer. Here, the intent is not to create the ultimate sequencer, but instead to provide what users need most often in a typical production setting. "Our customers have been asking for this," says Digidesign's director of product strategy, Dave Lebolt. "They said they wanted the same power and ease of use that they get with audio editing, mixing and processing, along with straightforward built-in MIDI sequencing. But this is just the start-it doesn't have everything and we'll keep adding to it over time. And you still get to choose among the best digital audio sequencers on the market running on our hardware and DAE."
Some of V. 5.0's sequencing features include true, sample-accurate view of MIDI and audio tracks in a single edit window, standard MIDI edit functions (quantize, transpose, repeat, split, merge, change velocity/duration, graphic controller editing, etc.) and multiple timebase and conductor rulers. Also standard are grid-based editing, arranging via regions and edit groups, and MIDI volume/mute control via external controllers.
For those users whose MIDI sequencer absolutely must provide more in-depth sequencing amenities-such as notation editing, step recording, event list editing or MIDI plug-ins-Pro Tools V. 5.0 still interfaces with any number of top sequencing programs from third-party suppliers.
HOW, WHEN, WHY?
Pro Tools V. 5.0 begins shipping at the end of this month and works on Pro Tools|24, Pro Tools|24 MIX and Pro Tools III PCI systems. Pro Tools V. 5.0 LE will be bundled with the new Digi 001 and Audiomedia III Toolbox systems. Pro Tools|24 product family users who bought PT V. 4.3.1 on or after NAB '99 will receive a free 5.0 upgrade, and an inexpensive V. 5.0 upgrade offer will be mailed to other registered users.
Digidesign, 3401 Hillview Ave., Palo Alto, CA 94304; 650/842-7900; fax 650/842-7999; www.digidesign.com.